The Discworld’s most inept wizard, Rincewind, has found himself on the Discworld’s last continent, a completely separate creation.
It’s hot. It’s dry . . . very dry. There was this thing once called The Wet, which no one believes in.
Practically everything that’s not poisonous is venomous.
But it’s the best bloody place in the world, all right?
Light travels slowly on the Disc and is slightly heavy, with a tendency to pile up against high mountain ranges. Research wizards have speculated that there is another, much speedier type of light which allows the slower light to be seen, but since this moves too fast to see they have been unable to find a use for it.
This does mean that, despite the Disc being flat, everywhere does not experience the same time at, for want of a better term, the same time.When it was so late at night in Ankh-Morpork that it was early in the morning, elsewhere it was . . .
. . . but there were no hours here. There was dawn and dusk, morning and afternoon, and presumably there was midnight and midday, but mainly there was heat. And redness. Something as artificial and human as an hour wouldn’t last five minutes here. It would be dried out and shrivelled up in seconds.
Above all, there was silence. It was not the chilly, bleak silence of endless space, but the burning organic silence you get when, across a thousand miles of shimmering red horizons, everything is too tired to make a sound.
But, as the ear of observation panned across the desert, it picked up something like a chant, a reedy little litany that beat against the all-embracing silence like a fly bumping against the windowpane of the universe.
The rather breathless chanter was lost to view because he was standing in a hole dug in the red earth; occasionally some earth was thrown up on the heap behind him. A stained and battered pointy hat bobbed about in time with the tuneless tune. The word ‘Wizzard’ had, perhaps, once been embroidered on it in sequins. They had fallen off, but the word was still there in brighter red where the hat’s original colour showed through. Several dozen small flies orbited it.
The words went something like this:
‘Grubs! That’s what we’re going to eat! That’s why they call it grub! And what’re we doing to get the grub? Why, we’re grubbing for it! Hooray!’ Another shovelful of earth arced on to the heap, and the voice said, rather more quietly: ‘I wonder if you can eat flies?’
They say the heat and the flies here can drive a man insane. But you don’t have to believe that, and nor does that bright mauve elephant that just cycled past.
Strangely enough, the madman in the hole was the only person currently on the continent who might throw any kind of light on a small drama being enacted a thousand miles away and several metres below, where the opal miner known only to his mates as Strewth was about to make the most valuable yet dangerous discovery of his career.
Strewth’s pick knocked aside the rock and dust of millennia, and something gleamed in the candlelight.
It was green, like frosty green fire.
Carefully, his mind suddenly as frozen as the light under his fingers, he picked away at the loose rock. The opal picked up and reflected more and more light on to his face as the debris fell away. There seemed to be no end to the glow.
Finally, he let his breath out in one go. ‘Strewth!’
If he’d found a little piece of green opal, say about the size of a bean, he’d have called his mates over and they’d have knocked off for a few beers. A piece the size of his fist would have had him pounding the floor. But with this . . . He was still standing there, brushing it gently with his fingers, when the other miners noticed the light and hurried over.
At least . . . they started out hurrying. As they came closer, they slowed to a kind of reverential walk.
No one said anything for a moment. The green light shone on their faces.
Then one of the men whispered: ‘Good on yer, Strewth.’
‘There isn’t enough money in all the world, mate.’
‘Watch out, it might just be a glaze . . .’
‘Still worth a mint. Go on, Strewth . . . get it out.’
They watched like cats as the pick pried loose more and more rock, and found an edge. And another edge.
Now Strewth’s fingers began to shake. ‘Careful, mate . . . there’s a side of it . . .’
The men took a step back as the last of the obscuring earth was knocked away. The thing was oblong, although the bottom edge was a confusion of twisted opal and dirt.
Strewth reversed his pick and laid the wooden handle against the glowing crystal.
‘Strewth, it’s no good,’ he said. ‘I just gots to know.. .’
He tapped the rock. It echoed.
‘Can’t be hollow, can it?’ said one of the miners. ‘Never heard of that.’
Strewth picked up a crowbar. ‘Right! Let’s––’
There was a faint plink. A large piece of opal broke away near the bottom. It turned out to be no thicker than a plate.
It revealed a couple of toes, which moved very slowly inside their iridescent shell.
‘Oh, strewth,’ said a miner, as they backed further away. ‘It’s alive.’
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